Growing the Internet Human Rights

Social Media Crisis Drives Ongoing Decline In Global Internet Freedom

Global Internet freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2019, largely as a result of social media increasingly being used by governments around the world as a conduit for mass surveillance and electoral manipulation. The Freedom on the Net 2019 report, the latest edition of the annual country-by-country assessment of Internet freedom, was released on November 5 by Freedom House, and highlights the shift in social media from a level playing field for civic discussion to an instrument of political distortion and societal control.

The Freedom on the Net 2019 report analyzed Internet freedom in 65 countries worldwide, covering 87% of global Internet users. Surveyed countries are designated as ‘Free’, ‘Partly Free’, or ‘Not Free’ based on an examination of, and scoring against, three categories: obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights.

Of the 65 countries assessed, 33 of them saw Internet freedom decline over the last year, with the biggest drops observed in Sudan and Kazakhstan. The longtime presidents of both countries were ousted, leading to widespread blocking of social media platforms, disruptions of Internet connectivity, and the increased use of electronic surveillance to undermine free expression.

The report called digital platforms “the new battleground for democracy,” finding evidence of digital election interference in 26 of the 30 countries studied that held national votes over the last year. It notes that Internet freedom restrictions tend to escalate before and during crucial votes, and that digital election interference was found to have taken three forms: informational measures (surreptitious manipulation of online discussions), technical measures (including access restrictions), and legal measures (to punish opponents and limit political expression).

Freedom House’s analysis also found that Internet freedom in the United States declined for the third straight year. Although it highlighted that the online environment within the country continues to remain vibrant, diverse, and free from state censorship, the report also called out a number of factors that drove the Internet freedom score lower, ranking the U.S. seventh globally. These included:

  • Expanded surveillance of the public by law enforcement and immigration agencies, with limited oversight or transparency.
  • Increased monitoring of social media platforms.
  • Disinformation around major political events, with both foreign and domestic actors manipulating content for political purposes.

As noted above, connectivity/access restrictions and Web site/application blocking have become increasingly popular tactics. This year’s report found that social media and communications applications were blocked in at least 20 surveyed countries. Internet connectivity didn’t fare much better, with telecommunications networks suspended in 17 surveyed countries. These actions often occurred ahead of elections or during periods of protest and civil unrest. Unfortunately, this remains an ongoing issue, as cited in our summary of the Freedom on the Net 2017 report.

Despite the declines in Internet freedom and their underlying causes highlighted in the report, the news was not all bad this year. Freedom House found that 16 surveyed countries earned improvements in their Internet freedom scores, with the greatest gain seen in Ethiopia. While network shutdowns unfortunately continued to occur in the country, they were more temporary and localized than previous nationwide shutdowns. In addition, the new Prime Minister’s government loosened restrictions on the Internet, unblocking over 250 Web sites, and also reduced the number of people imprisoned for online activity.

Malaysia and Armenia were also specifically called out for their positive progress, and Iceland was listed as the “world’s best protector of Internet freedom”, with the report stating “The country boasts enviable conditions, including near-universal connectivity, limited restrictions on content, and strong protections for users’ rights.”

How you can get involved:

  • Read the full Freedom on the Net 2019 report to gain deeper insight into this year’s findings.
  • Attend the Freedom on the Net 2019 launch event on November 12 for a discussion of key findings and emerging trends in Internet freedom, including the shifting methods used by governments to manipulate elections and monitor citizens on social media.
  • Review the country-level rankings to understand the key Internet controls employed in your country, and other countries of interest.
  • Use the recommendations within the report as guidance for outreach to local policymakers, initiatives within the private sector, and participation in civil society activities.
  • Follow organizations including Freedom House (@freedomhouse) and the Internet Society (@internetsociety) on social media to stay up-to-date on issues concerning Internet freedom around the world.

The Internet Society is a proud supporter of Freedom House and the Freedom on the Net initiative because their work aligns closely with our goals for the Internet to be open, globally-connected, secure, and trustworthy.

Growing the Internet Human Rights

Sri Lanka Chapter Tackles Internet Restrictions and Cybersecurity Threats

Since its establishment nine years ago, the Internet Society Sri Lanka Chapter has been a key stakeholder in ensuring a free, open, and safe Internet in Sri Lanka.

During the 2018 religious riots and the 2019 Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, when access to social media networks and messaging services was blocked, the Sri Lanka Chapter worked closely with government, media, academia, the private sector, and the general public to inform them about the impact of such restrictions on the Internet. In the aftermath of the 2018 religious riots, the Sri Lanka Chapter issued an appeal letter to the Presidential Secretariat on behalf of Internet Society members in Sri Lanka to lift the social media ban. Earlier this year, after the Easter bombings, the Sri Lanka Chapter organized an online meeting to engage in dialogue with different groups, including government and media agencies, informing them about the wide-ranging economic and social consequences of Internet restrictions, and raising the awareness that preventing online access is rarely an effective solution to conflicts and unrest.

In the attempt to control the spread of misinformation and hate speech, and cut off communications between organizers of attacks, the Internet restrictions also prevented people from connecting with their families and friends, and from accessing emergency aid in the aftermath of violence. Facebook-based volunteer groups and civil society organizations were not able to reach those in need of assistance and disseminate validated content. Businesses that relied on connectivity for sales and marketing were also negatively affected and suffered huge losses. The estimated economic cost of the partial Internet shutdown in Sri Lanka during 7-15 March 2018 was USD30 million.

Technical measures to restrict Internet access are rarely appropriate tools to fix social and political issues. Instead, dialogue, transparency, due judicial process, and openness should be the first steps to find solutions to complex issues, in a way that is inclusive of all stakeholders.

In May this year, the Ministry of Digital Infrastructure and Information Technology and the Computer Emergency Readiness Team and Co-ordination Centre (CERT|CC) invited the public to comment on a proposed Cybersecurity Bill – the first-ever draft bill released for public comment in Sri Lanka.

The objectives of the proposed Cybersecurity Bill are to:

  • Ensure the effective implementation of the National Cybersecurity Strategy in Sri Lanka
  • Prevent, mitigate, and respond to cybersecurity threats and incidents effectively and efficiently
  • Establish the Cybersecurity Agency of Sri Lanka to strengthen the institutional framework for cybersecurity
  • Protect the critical information infrastructure

The Sri Lanka Chapter was invited by the Minister of Digital Infrastructure and Information Technology to review the draft Bill together with other stakeholders, including the Information and Communication Technology Agency and the Computer Society of Sri Lanka.

At the onset of the draft Bill’s release, the Sri Lanka Chapter requested: (1) an extension on the deadline for submission of comments to allow a thorough consultation process with different stakeholders; (2) translation of the draft Bill into local languages; and (3) creation of a multistakeholder community to review the draft Bill.

The Sri Lanka Chapter worked closely with the Ministry and CERT|CC to raise public awareness about the Cybersecurity Bill, and coordinate and collate public comments from individuals, organizations, policymakers, and political parties through a number of online and face-to-face meetings. During this process of consultation and discussion, we recognized a lack of technical policy experts available.

Nevertheless, the comments submitted by the Sri Lanka Chapter were taken positively. The main comments were related to the need to clearly define what constitutes “critical information infrastructure,” and the need to reconsider the establishment of multiple agencies responsible for cybersecurity to avoid function overlaps and inefficiencies in responding to cyberthreats. Minimizing the number of agencies was recommended. A review procedure for the role of the Cybersecurity Agency and civil organization representation in the Cybersecurity Agency were also recommended. 

On behalf of the Sri Lanka Chapter, I would like to express my gratitude to Internet Society members in Sri Lanka and globally for supporting us in these activities. We would also like to thank the Ministry of Digital Infrastructure and Information Technology and the Honourable Minister for making the proposed Cybersecurity Bill available for public comment. We would like to take this opportunity to reiterate our commitment to continue safeguarding the free, open, and inclusive Internet for all.

Read the Internet Society’s policy brief on Internet Shutdowns.

Building Trust Human Rights Shaping the Internet's Future

RightsCon 2019: Human Rights in the Digital Age

Since its creation in 2011, RightsCon has gathered people from different sectors to discuss human rights in the digital age. It started as an event with a few hundred experts, but has become a major conference, with nearly 3000 participants in 2019. The 2019 program consisted of 17 tracks focusing on major issues, which totalized more than 450 sessions held in a period of four days.

As the conference started to attract a wider group of people, it adopted a series of measures to increase its diversity. The recent host countries, including Tunisia and Costa Rica, reflect the worldwide nature of the event, which now gathers individuals from all over the globe.

RightsCon has also gathered a considerable number of young people. They’ve had the opportunity to connect not only through regular conference activities, but during a summit on Day Zero. The summit aimed to engage youth and also brief them on the discussions taking place during the  rest of RightsCon.

The sessions at RightsCon were designed with different formats, which was reflected in the physical structure of the meeting rooms. They were organized not just in an audience format, but also roundtables, allowing for people to feel equal footing when exchanging ideas.

It may seem simple, but this has a huge impact when it comes to youth participation. Having people at eye level makes an enormous difference in softening the intimidation someone in their early career stages might feel by sharing thoughts and asking questions with more experienced professionals.

It is already a challenge for young people, especially from under-represented countries, to attend international events. Thence, it is really important that the structure of the conference and the sessions do not offer an additional difficulty for young people to express themselves and fully enjoy the opportunity to connect with others.

In this sense, RightsCon 2019 was able to provide a collaborative environment, presenting a variety of sessions that allowed a peer-to-peer learning process – an aspect in favor of diversity and inclusion.

At the closing ceremony, participants were presented with the RightsCon Tunis 2019 Learnings, which contains the results of the major discussions that happened and starting points on how human rights can be approached.

Although the RightsCon Learnings are not by any means binding, they have a very important role in building a foundation that will strengthen the future actions of individuals and organizations that are part of the community of human rights defenders in the digital age.

Youth still struggle to find the resources to attend international events and this is one of the main reasons why our participation in these spaces is so limited. Therefore, having a document that outlines some basic accords discussed in all the tracks of the event also offers a tool for those who had the opportunity to attend to disseminate the knowledge and the experience with others who couldn’t do the same.

Participating in an event like RightsCon represents the chance for youth not only to learn from the sessions and connect with more experienced professionals, but also to outline an agenda for our future actions and the work we perform in our local and regional contexts.

In this sense, as young people who were provided an opportunity to attend international events such as RightsCon, our role is both to pursue more inclusive and diverse environments in these spaces and to disseminate knowledge and offer engagement opportunities for those who did not have the same opportunity.

The RightsCon 2019 Learnings is a very relevant community statement with a potential to help us build an agenda for human rights in the digital age. As youth, it is our mission to help communicate it out to the world.

A safer world means strong, secure communication.

Human Rights

Internet Freedom Declines Again, with ‘Polarized Echo Chambers’ Aiding Censorship Efforts

The amount of freedom on the global Internet has declined for the eighth straight year, with a group of countries moving toward “digital authoritarianism,” according to a new report from Freedom House.

A number of factors, including the spread of false rumors and hateful propaganda online, have contributed to an Internet that “can push citizens into polarized echo chambers that pull at the social fabric of the country,” said the report, released Thursday. These rifts often give aid to antidemocratic forces, including government efforts to censor the Internet, Freedom House said.

During 2018, authoritarians used claims of fake news and of data breaches and other scandals as an excuse to move closer to a Chinese model of Internet censorship, said the report, cosponsored by the Internet Society.

“China is exporting its model of digital authoritarianism throughout the world, posing a serious threat to the future of free and open Internet,” said Sanja Kelly, director for Internet Freedom at Freedom House. “In order to counter it, democratic governments need to showcase that there is a better way to manage the Internet, and that cybersecurity and disinformation can be successfully addressed without infringing on human rights.”

Thirty-six countries sent representatives to Chinese training programs on censorship and surveillance since January 2017. Another 18 countries have purchased monitoring technology or facial recognition systems from Chinese companies during the same time frame.

“Digital authoritarian is being promoted [by China] as a way for governments to control their citizens through technology, inverting the concept of the Internet as an engine for human liberation,” Freedom House said.

About 71 percent of the Internet’s 3.7 billion users live in countries where technology users were arrested or imprisoned for posting content related to political, social, or religious issues, the report said. Fifty-five percent live in countries where political, social or religious content was blocked online, and 48 percent live in countries were people have been attacked or killed for their online activities since June 2017.

About 47 percent of Internet users live in countries where access to social media or messaging platforms were temporarily or permanently blocked.

Freedom House reviewed the Internet-related policies of 65 countries. Internet freedom declined in 26 countries, including the United States, with the biggest score declines in Egypt and Sri Lanka. Nineteen countries posted gains in Internet freedom, although most of the increases were minor, the organization said.

During the year, 17 governments approved or proposed new laws restricting online media in the name of fighting fake news. Eighteen countries increased surveillance efforts.

The most restrictive countries were China, Iran, Ethiopia, Syria, and Cuba, the group said. Iceland, Estonia, Canada, Germany, and Australia were the countries with the most Internet freedom. The United States ranked sixth highest, the U.K. seventh, and Japan ninth.

In a dozen countries, declines in Internet freedom were related to elections. In these countries, the lead-up to an election resulted in a spread of disinformation, new censorship, technical attacks, or arrests of government critics, Freedom House said.

In addition to concerns about censorship and the spread of disinformation, the report also decries a loss of online privacy. Even as some countries push for more personal protections, “the unbridled collection of personal data has broken down traditional notions of privacy,” Freedom House said.

The report offers several recommendations for policymakers, for private companies, and for civil society. Governments should ensure that all Internet-related laws adhere to international human rights laws, and they should enact strong data protection laws, the report recommends.

Members of civil society can work with private companies on fact-checking efforts and can monitor their home countries’ collaboration with Chinese surveillance and censorship efforts, the report says.

In addition to the Internet Society, sponsors of the report include Google, Oath, the New York Community Trust, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

Read the Freedom on the Net report.

Beyond the Net Community Projects Development Growing the Internet Human Rights Improving Technical Security Open Internet Standards Privacy Technology

From Idea to Action: Beyond the Net Selects 15 Amazing Chapter Projects!

The Beyond the Net Funding Programme is pleased to announce the results of our 2018 grant cycle. A total of 49 applications were received, and after a thorough reviewing process, 15 amazing projects were selected.

These projects are at the core of our mission, and will use the Internet to develop Community Networks in underserved areas, to empower women through ICT, as well as bringing awareness on Internet policies around the world.

This is the result of months of effort from our Chapter Community. Many discussions, numerous clarifications and proposals, updates, and revisions from the Beyond the Net Selection Committee. We are proud of you all.

Please join us in celebrating the following projects!

Developing community networks in the Northern region of Brazil – Brazil Chapter

Supporting and promoting the development of the Internet to enrich people’s lives, the project aim is to contribute to the growth and improvement of community networks policies and practices in Brazilian rural areas, in order to strengthen those who are marginalized. Instituto Nupef will work to develop a new network in the state of Maranhão as well as a developing a communications plan for the Babassu coconut breakers organizations and movements. Objectives include expanding the reach of community networks with broadband Internet, monitoring of legislative and regulatory issues, and consequently documenting the work by disseminating the experiences by way of videos, photos, and texts.

Migrant Community Networks – Mexico Chapter

Aiming to understand how a particular community of migrants lives and communicates beyond societal spaces. We plan to analyze the re-appropriation of space and communication, digital connectivity and social discourse, through observation, data collection in forms of digital communication and social interaction, and by means of audiovisual recording of refugees’ everyday lives. This project doubles as an exploratory and social intervention that will help open a dialogue on connectivity among the migrant community. Objectives include implementation of a community network with trans-border communication in the Tijuana area and the creation of a digital archive of migrant communities’ experiences.

Creation of an Internet Traffic Exchange Point (IXP) – Dominican Republic Chapter

The project aims to create an IXP in a neutral, reliable, safe,  and efficient place, achieving the interconnection and exchange of traffic between those involved. Objectives are to raise awareness among local stakeholders regarding both the need and the advantages of an IXP, reducing costs of international interconnection and maintaining local internet traffic at national borders. Improvement of stability and resilience of the Internet service can optimize response times to security incidents and technical problems and the creation of a “community” of operators will give continuity to the project, promoting its expansion and operation according the best local and international practices.

Improving Livelihood of Women Through ICT Empowerment – Malaysia Chapter

The project target is to train 400 women to use the MyHelper crowdsourcing application to encourage earning extra income. This three-pronged project provides opportunities for women to develop essential entrepreneurial skills through ICT, empowering them to start their own businesses and use the Internet to improve their livelihood. Training modules will be developed in English as well as local languages such as Malay and Tagalog during a 3-month period, benefitting a large pool of women and ensuring the sustainability of the project. The creation and improvement of profiles will increase crowdsource worker visibility and the application of jobs.

Creating Networks – Youth Special Interest Group (SIG)

Firstly, the project aims to map organizations “of young people” in Latin America to identify how many work with issues related to the Internet and ICT, and leveraging its importance.  A website will be created displaying this information, followed by a capacity building phase and introduction, plus chartered topics and sessions related to individual work modules. Objectives will include, after analysis, face-to-face capacity-building sessions on Internet Governance to encourage proactiveness and general connection. Survey results will be published as well as a general guide on the development and experience of the project and the materials used, for use by the general public and in both the Spanish and Portuguese language.

Multistakeholder Internet Governance Training – Guinea Chapter

For the first time, a training project aims to set up a multilateral, inclusive, multistakeholder and discussion platform related to general Internet issues in Guinea and particularly on Internet Governance. Discussions will contribute to the development of the Internet at local, regional, and International level. Specific objectives are the training of approximately 70 people from different areas of life, including government, business, and civil society as well as engineers and standards development professionals. A committee will be created to ensure that Guinea’s concerned are addressed as well as addressing the need to increase Internet Governance capacity for Internet users as well as ensuring that stakeholders are well prepared for improved contributions/interactions.

Zaria Community Network and Culture Hub – Nigeria Chapter

The project seeks to use the Internet to improve the quality of education for the formally enrolled, as well as those outside the formal schooling system, as a resource for basic education, vocational development, and self-employment opportunities. A campaign will be run to enlighten communities on the opportunities available. Goals will include the implementation of free-to-use ISM band to reach research and educational institutions, community WiFi hotspots and solar-powered back-up solutions, culture hub web portals, a shared learning management system and a network monitoring infrastructure. A community engagement session for 500 teachers, students, and individuals will be conducted as well as continuous enlightenment campaigns and surveys to estimate effectiveness of strategies.

Women in Cyber Security – Kazakhstan Chapter

The implementation of the project will increase potential, and ensure that young women have the necessary skills and knowledge to understand, participate in, and benefit fully from cybersecurity and their applications as well as creating future role models thus increasing the percentage of women in the field. The aim of the training is to bridge the digital gender divide in cybersecurity in Kazakhstan by conducting 8 training sessions of approximately 50 students over a period of two years. Experienced female trainers will use up-to-date cybersecurity educational programs with the objective of increasing to up to 50% the number of women in this field over the next decade.

LibreRouter Phase 2 – Community Networks Special Interest Group (SIG)

The LibreRouter is the first multi-radio mesh router that is designed for community networks. It enables simple mesh deployment with little to no manual configuration and provides easy to follow documentation on technical aspects but also for planning and coordination. This Phase 2 project intends to cover an important missing piece: organized remote support for LibreRouter based networks. Main objectives are the design and implementation of a support system dashboard with a support request and follow-up mechanism, as well as extending LibreRouzer software tools to improve on problems identified. Other aims include the completion of documentation materials, hardware improvements and exploration of designs with the objective of lowering costs.

Spring of Knowledge – Kyrgyzstan Chapter

Schools in Kyrgyzstan have a great need for teachers with over 2500 teaching positions unfilled every year. The project aims are to improve the quality of education in Kyrgyzstan and increase the number of personnel to allow teachers to spend more time with students as well as providing additional materials to improve their own training. Objectives are to expand opportunities for studies in pilot locations, stimulating independence and responsibility and reducing the divide between school children in developed countries and those living in Kyrgyzstan in both rural and urban areas. Our aim is to increase the digital literacy of schoolchildren in Kyrgyzstan in pilot locations within 1 academic year.

Better Internet for Everyone in Lebanon – Lebanon Chapter

In Lebanon, the daily challenge is the peak time when the Internet user’s consumption outgrows the total bandwidth capacity and the quality of service is degraded for shared bandwidth offerings constituting more than 90% of the residential Internet market. Our project is a new business model for shared bandwidth offerings, consisting of a different pricing model based on the time of use as well as a subscriber panel to monitor service quality and accountability. The proof of concept will be tested first with up to 10 local community WISPs and later with other developing countries and ranging from 50 to 1000 subscribers. Comparisons will be made of aggregated graphs effects, consumption behavior, old vs new ISP revenues, and finally community polls to evaluate the new model and prepare to scale once proven.

DigiGen– Serbia Belgrade Chapter

The project aim is to explore how ICT technologies and the Internet can play a role in decreasing the existing gender digital gap and how to take into consideration gender awareness in developing new and evolving technologies. Our objective is to determine how new technologies can meet societal challenges across gender lines to promote and accelerate access to quality education, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Research topics include understanding the factors for acceptance of new technologies across genders and using the learning acquired for maximum impact and developing a leadership platform in rural areas. Our aim is also to leverage free access to the Internet through “Internet Light” as well as creating digital literacy recommendations in documented form for further program implementation in the region.

Contributing towards better ICT Policy Environment in Nepal – Nepal Chapter

The project goal is to build ICT and Internet related laws and policies in Nepal compatible with both international standards and best practices and ensuring the fundamental human rights of individuals. It will, after analysis, organize consultations with stakeholders and prepare policy recommendations aiming to ensure an open and sustainable Internet and ICT for the benefit of all. Objectives will incorporate the review of draft bills from international standards perspectives, inform major stakeholders of loopholes by sharing policy recommendations, and publishing a policy brief for the enhancement of knowledge. Our aim is to ensure the best adoption of Internet-related laws that will uphold Internet rights.

Empowering Village Development Committee Leaders – Botswana Chapter

In Botswana, Village Development Committees (VDCs), are “the main institutions charged with the responsibility for community development activities.” This project will provide training to VDCs committee leaders on use of the Internet as well as introducing the opportunities on offer. The project aims to target VDCs leaders in 2 remote regions with the aim of empowering these village leaders by showcasing to the best of its ability the benefits of using the Internet. By donating a laptop for use by the VDCs of the 4 most rural areas, we can empower these leaders to access information and facilitate communication. No local program has yet targeted these leaders and yet they are influential in community development. The full objective is to target 40 leaders in 4 regions to become Internet champions in their respective areas and contribute to village development issues in a productive way. 

KASBUY: Promoting Moroccan Women’s Participation in the Digital Economy – Morocco Chapter

Our proposition is the project KASBUY, a web platform to help cooperatives overcome marketing difficulties in advertising their products and reaching out to clients. KASBUY is an e-commerce platform and will allow any registered cooperative to have its own online space from which it will sell its products and manage its business and inventory management activities. The project will encourage the best use of the Internet for sustainable development of local communities and includes opportunities from which women and their families will benefit.  With the promotion and preservation of Moroccan artisanal heritage and the use of a universal and accessible web showroom, we aim to improve the maximum employment for women and families, particularly in rural areas.

Do you have a great idea to make your community better via the Internet? Find out if you’re eligible for a Beyond the Net grant!

Image: Nyirarukobwa Primary School in the Eastern Provice of Rwanda, which was connected to the Internet via a Beyond the Net project, ©Nyani Quarmyne

Human Rights Internet Governance Shaping the Internet's Future

Future Thinking: Arnaud Castaignet on Estonia’s e-Citizenship

Last year, the Internet Society unveiled the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future. The interactive report identifies the drivers affecting tomorrow’s Internet and their impact on Media & Society, Digital Divides, and Personal Rights & Freedoms. In May 2018, we interviewed Arnaud Castaignet, head of public relations for Estonia’s e-Residency programme.

Arnaud Castaignet is the head of public relations for the Republic of Estonia’s e-Residency programme, a government-issued digital ID offering the freedom to join a community of digitally empowered citizens and open and run a global EU company fully online from anywhere in the world. Previously, he worked for the French President François Hollande as a digital strategist. Arnaud is also a Board Member of Open Diplomacy, a Paris-based think tank established in 2010, and a member of the Young Transatlantic Network of Future Leaders, a flagship initiative of the German Marshall Fund of the United States specifically geared toward young professionals 35 years old and younger. Estonia not only became the first country to say that Internet access was a human right, but has given their citizens free public WiFi, enabled them to vote online since 2005, and are protecting them with strong privacy, transparency and data protection laws.

The Internet Society: Estonia’s e-Residency programme bridges traditional borders by offering any citizen of the world the opportunity to become a digital citizen of Estonia. How’s that working for you?

Arnaud Castaignet: The e-Residency programme was created in December 2014 with a radical but simple idea: why should a country only offer its services to its own citizens and residents and not also to anyone from anywhere in the world? E-Residency is a transnational digital ID accessible to anyone from anywhere in the world, giving access to Estonian e-services without actually coming to Estonia. Although Estonia sees access to Internet as a right, we know access to services is totally unfair around the world. Unfortunately, if you are not from the right country, if you don’t live in the right place, you might not be able to access basic services that are necessary to create and run your business. With e-Residency, we want to provide all people with equal access to services and opportunities.

Two core values are driving our action. The e-Residency programme is inclusive: every person on the planet is able to become an e-resident of Estonia. Our programme is also empowering: we believe everybody in the world should have an equal opportunity to access the tools they need to become a successful entrepreneur and reach their full potential. We believe in this principle of fair equality of opportunity. Those who have the same level of talent and capability and the same willingness to use those gifts should have the same prospects of success regardless of their social class or origin, where they live or decide to travel. Our message to entrepreneurs is “focus on your ideas, your business, your product; we will keep the way open for you.”

The Internet Society: Is it true that even the Japanese prime minister is an e-resident of Estonia?

Arnaud Castaignet: Several Head of States became e-residents as an acknowledgement of Estonia’s advanced digital society and as a support for our innovative programme. Shinzo Abe is one of them, but also Angela Merkel and Xavier Bettel, for instance.

The Internet Society: Do you think other countries will, in the future, follow Estonia’s example in offering e-residency to attract investors/businesses?

Arnaud Castaignet: We believe that, by definition, no model can be fully duplicated from one country to another. Having an e-Residency programme was only possible because, first, Estonia has been building a digital society throughout the years. It is also influenced by the country’s mindset regarding innovation and transparency, our belief in the need to build more business ties with the rest of the world, and our vision of the need for States to transform themselves into something more agile, inclusive and empowering.

But we often receive political delegations from countries willing to be inspired by our experience and we hear about projects such as “m-residency” in Azerbaijan or Lithuania’s plans to use blockchain technology to allow company creation. We are quite enthusiastic about such developments because it will force us to remain innovative. The world is changing very fast and countries can easily fall behind if they refuse to address new issues or bury their heads in the sand.

We are always willing to share our experience and expertise, not only about e-Residency, but also about how States can evolve. Just to give you an example, each year, Estonia saves the equivalent of 2 percent of its GDP by using digital signature. If this system would be generalized everywhere, many European countries could benefit.

The Internet Society: Estonia is often cited as the poster child of e-governance with its radical digital developments. Can you tell us more about what differentiates Estonia from other countries in this regard?

Arnaud Castaignet: I think the main difference is that Estonia’s digital society is based on trust. The government of Estonia is built upon a solid foundation of transparency, with personal privacy and data integrity taken very seriously. Each citizen (or resident, or e-resident) knows exactly which administration has checked its personal data. Digital society and e-governance can only be created if there is trust between the people, state authorities and private enterprises. Building trust has got very little to do with technical solutions, but has a great deal to do with mindsets and culture. Changing this mindset is much more difficult and time-consuming than creating technical solutions. This means a lot of everyday work in building openness and safeguarding privacy and transparency.

It also cannot be built overnight: it’s a long and challenging process, requiring help and collaboration from different institutional and private actors, and a matter that it feels natural to address at the very beginning of the process of digital transformation of a country. Information must be shared, administration and government must be transparent, informal forms of interaction must be built, and you need to develop internal secure IT systems for public institutions that can be trusted, from the inside and the outside.

The Internet Society: What is the feedback to your programme? Has there been backlash, especially at a time when nationalism appears to be on the rise in some European countries?

Arnaud Castaignet: We now have more than 40,000 e-residents from 150 countries. Their stories are of course very diverse but they all have one thing in common: our programme helped to solve issues faced by these entrepreneurs and freelancers around the world. These individuals now see Estonia as a problem-solving country and we are proud of it.

With e-Residency, we show that a country doesn’t have to choose between being inclusive to the rest of the world or to make its population wealthier. It is by opening our digital borders that we generate Estonia’s revenues for the future that will benefit all Estonian citizens. We know there are opposite trends in other countries and some governments are more interested in building new walls, but building barriers will only prevent their citizens from gaining new and more opportunities. Walls do not protect anyone.

The Internet Society: Blockchain underpins many of your services, but some people are arguing that blockchain’s benefits are unreasonably hyped. What has your experience shown?

Arnaud Castaignet: The Estonian government has been testing blockchain technology since 2008. From 2012, blockchain has been in use in Estonia’s registries, such as national health, judicial, legislative, security and commercial code systems, with plans to extend its use to other spheres such as personal medicine, cybersecurity and data embassies. We believe blockchain has a great potential because it can improve trust in systems and, in our case, it adds an extra layer of security.

Whether we like it or not, the world is becoming more decentralised. The development of blockchain technology should make us build new lending relationships between citizens, companies and the state. I would say it is for the best because this is one of the reasons why blockchain has such a great potential. Not only does it have the ability to remove entrenched middlemen, but it can also improve the overall transparency of our systems. Of course, coordination and openness amongst technologists, designers and citizens is necessary. However, we must not be overly optimistic about the capacity of technological innovation, on its own, to change the course of history. People always come first.

The Internet Society: Can you tell us more about how Estonia encourages transparency in legislative processes? Why is it important, in your experience, to involve all stakeholders in governance? 

Arnaud Castaignet: The Estonian public can read every draft law submitted since February 2003. This system is also using blockchain technology. Readers can see who submitted the legislation, its current status, and changes made to it as it passed through the parliamentary process. Once a proposed act becomes law, it is published in the online state gazette, another searchable database that acts as an open legal library. The idea behind it is to increase the level of transparency in the state, to cut down corruption, and encourage citizens to take an active interest in legislative affairs. In 2017, the citizen initiative portal was launched, also making it possible to compose and send collective initiatives to the Estonian Parliament.

The Internet Society: What does the Estonian digital example tell us about the future of governance? What will the role of governments be in the future? Will they become more technocratic or neutral stewards of citizens’ increasingly digital lives (taxes, e-commerce, etc.)?

Arnaud Castaignet: We are facing an unprecedented era of change with multiple waves of technology enabling new business models and reshaping our economies and societies. Increasingly accustomed to living and working digitally, citizens might now have higher expectations for government’s technological adeptness and capability in the future. Most government structures and processes date to earlier than the 1950s and some of them seem to be more interested in building new walls rather than better serving their population in the digital age. These governments may face irrelevance if they don’t adapt to the new needs, habits and practices of their citizens.

The Internet Society: With Estonia’s ID card being central to life in Estonia – including banking, benefits, paying for parking tickets, accessing medical records, voting, renewing licences, etc. – how do you deal with fears about data protection, cybersecurity, and privacy?

Arnaud Castaignet: We must deal with any situation with full transparency because our digital nation depends on the trust of all its people — citizens, residents and e-residents. You cannot expect trust if the State is not transparent and accountable. If there is no citizen control of the use of personal data, citizens would be legitimately worried about their privacy. In Estonia, to ensure transparency and accountability, citizens are allowed to monitor their own privacy. They can trace anyone who has tried to access their data by logging on to the state portal, There have been a few cases — among doctors and policemen, for instance — where people have been sentenced for unethically accessing certain databases. Protecting the integrity of our digital identity is always a top priority.

But being pioneers in these fields also means we will sometimes be among the first to encounter new challenges. Ten years ago, Estonia was the first in the world to experience a nationwide cyber-attack, for example, although no data was compromised. The attack served as a wake-up call for how the country’s digital infrastructure could be secured through radical new technology. Of course, no system can be fully secured but we still believe paper-based administrations are less secured than digital ones.

The Internet Society: Could your e-Residency programme redefine what it means to be a country in the future? Do you think digital identity will one day extend to constitutional rights or actual citizenship too, and not just everyday matters?

Arnaud Castaignet: Our secure digital identity system and e-services facilitate locational independence. The state serves not only its sparsely populated areas, but also the entire Estonian diaspora. Estonians who live anywhere in the world can maintain a connection to their homeland via e-services, contribute to the legislative process and even participate in elections. All of this facilitates the mobility of the population, while maintaining a strong link between them and public services. The e-Residency programme is now redefining this because it allows non-Estonians to benefit from these services; they use our country as a service. This was the idea behind the launch of our programme: why not also offer these e-services to non-Estonians, even those who do not reside in Estonia, who need better everyday solutions than those offered by their own states?

What we see is that this system also redefines what being an Estonian means. As President Kaljulaid said, “one can be Estonian in many ways. You can be an Estonian by thinking the same way we do, by having an interest in our country, by being an e-resident”. As I said, many e-residents want to know more about Estonia after they discover the country as a result of e-Residency. Some of them learn the language, others want to physically move here, and most of them become the best promoters of our country. They don’t give up their national identity, they add another that contributes to build their own personal identity and the way in which they define themselves. Global citizens need inclusive identities.

I, for instance, consider my personal identity as being fully global: I am an European, a French citizen of Cambodian origin, working for the Estonian government and benefiting from both French and Estonian services. Just as national identities are made up from national myths and ideas, personal identities are a construction based on several factors: the nationality and citizenship, of course, but also values, ideas, experience, areas of interests, among other things.

Right now, being an e-resident doesn’t mean having civil or legal rights in Estonia. If we reach hundreds of thousands of e-residents contributing to Estonian economy and benefiting from Estonian services, we will need to find ways for them to be more integrated to Estonian society, which will make the Estonian community much bigger. Estonia might one day have 1,3 million citizens but a community of 10 million e-residents feeling at least partly Estonian.

The Internet Society: What does this changing notion of identity mean for the future of privacy?

Arnaud Castaignet: Old, paper methods of identification – passports, birth certificates, driving licences, utility bills – are simply not suited for an online world. Access to health, banking and education also remains difficult for more than one billion people, including refugees and displaced populations, without an ID. The UN and other intergovernmental initiatives set a goal of providing everyone on the planet with a legal ID by 2030. It is well documented that those with access to a form of identity are better protected and able to access essential services than those who do not have an official identity. Digital identity and access systems can unlock a range of basic and empowering services for individuals, including financial inclusion, healthcare and education. They also hold significant promise for helping refugees and displaced populations to access immediate and longer-term services.

For public authorities, the key challenge will be to create harmonious digital bonds that secure the relationship between digital identities and wider society. This is only possible through a public framework of trust, built on guarantees of private data protection and security. To empower individuals, identity systems need to enhance security and convenience, preserve privacy and uphold individual rights and freedoms. Privacy and user control are core to realizing the full potential of digital identity. Stakeholders must create pre-emptive and responsive tools for safeguarding users against privacy violations, and establish legal frameworks and mechanisms for oversight and recourse in the event of misuse or abuse.

The Internet Society: What are your hopes for the future of the Internet? What are your fears?

Nothing new comes into our lives without a hidden curse. My biggest fear is that the Internet might help to perpetuate socioeconomic divides, especially if digital inequalities remain. In my opinion, the Internet must be a tool to reduce inequalities, whether they are digital, socioeconomic, geographical, etc. This is why topics such as net neutrality, for example, matter. When one attacks net neutrality, we know it will harm the poor because it reduces access to opportunities. We know from history that disruptive and game-changing ideas often come from the margins, not from big and established actors.

Of course, no one knows exactly how the Internet will evolve. I am convinced that, despite much of the negativity in the news right now, the overall trend appears to be positive for the opportunities that await our generation and the next one. My biggest hope is that Internet will allow more innovators to forge a way to the unknown by offering equal opportunities, thanks to access to services, information and education.  I am quite optimistic that governments and institutions will use the Internet to build more bridges and invest in skills development, and particularly soft skills – that combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, social and emotional intelligence, that are absolutely crucial in the digital age. These skills will help citizens to adapt to disruption and will facilitate social and geographical mobility – some of the main issues and opportunities of our century – and increase the knowledge of others, other cultures and people.

What do you think the future of the Internet looks like? Explore the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future to see how the Internet might transform our lives across the globe, then choose a path to help shape tomorrow.

Photo credit: Web Summit

Economy Growing the Internet Human Rights Internet Governance

Building the Digital Silk Road Together: Kyrgyz Chapter Proposes Ideas for Internet Development in Central Asia at Cambridge University Forum

Central Asia, the most remote landlocked mountainous region in the world, has some of the most expensive Internet in global comparison. The cost of it can easily reach 10-20% of average monthly salary. In absolute terms, the price of the Internet can reach triple digits for 1 Mbps.

Acknowledging such challenges and considering the benefits that the Internet can bring, Central Asian governments are embarking on national digitalization strategies. The Kyrgyz Republic has launched a national program on digital transformation “Taza Koom” (“Transparent Society”). The program focuses on building an open government and a digital economy.

When it comes to digital development strategies, cooperation among countries is a mutually beneficial approach. To foster such collaboration, Cambridge University initiated a common platform called Digital Dialogue for Central Asia. The first meeting of this platform Making Inroads into Digital Transformation took place in Astana in April 2018.

Speaking at the forum on behalf of the Internet Society’s Kyrgyz Chapter, I proposed to jointly build the Digital Silk Road guided by the slogan: “free movement of ideas, people, creativity, technology and innovation”. Central Asia, with its favourable geographical location in Eurasia, could become the connecting host and focal point – a global digital hub – connecting different continents.

The region has talented people and beautiful nature that offers energy and inspiration. The Internet has become our ocean of possibilities and Central Asia can be the virtual window to the entire Eurasian region.

As a specific proposal for innovative cooperation, we proposed the idea of extending the network of fiber-optic communications lines through the territory of the Central Asia connecting the East and the West. Simultaneously, the World Bank is helping connect the South and the North through the Digital CASA project.

Another idea under implementation with the support of the Internet Society’s Beyond the Net Programme is the Digital Silk Road IXP in the Ferghana Valley, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, bordering three Central Asia countries of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Improving Internet connectivity in Central Asia would bring many economic opportunities and social benefits to the citizens of the Central Asian countries. This is a mutually beneficial effort that would help the region to leapfrog in terms of sustainable economic development. The region that was the world’s centre of culture and science during the times of the Ancient Silk Road gets a new chance to become one of the vibrant regions of the globe thanks to the Digital Silk Road.

The discussions on Internet development in Central Asia will continue at the Central Asian Internet Governance Forum on 21-22 June in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Learn more about Internet Governance and why every voice matters.

Community Networks Human Rights

Together Let’s #SwitchItOn and #KeepItOn! The Internet Society Releases Joint Statement with Access Now

This week the Internet Society is at RightsCon, one of the world’s leading conferences on human rights in the digital age. The event brings together business leaders, policy makers, government representatives, technologists, and human rights defenders from around the world.

We are proud to stand together with Access Now in our belief that a globally connected, secure and trusted Internet is the foundation for exercising our online rights. We are proud to release this joint statement calling for an open Internet that includes everyone.

Please support our call to the nations of the world to #SwitchItOn and #KeepItOn.

Read the statement here

Visit our #SwitchItOn page and find out more about Community Networks.

Image © Nyani Quarmyne: Ucha Seturi (left), Murmani Tcharelidze and a helpful visiting journalist giving raising a tower near Koklata in Tusheti, Georgia, on 23 July 2017.

Building Trust Human Rights Privacy

Internet Companies Have More Work to Do on Privacy, Freedom of Expression, Report Says

Top Internet, mobile, and telecom companies across the globe still have many steps they could take to better protect their users’ freedom of expression and privacy, a new report says.

The 2018 Corporate Accountability Index, released recently by Ranking Digital Rights, gave Google a top score of 63 among 22 companies rated for protecting freedom of expression and privacy. But with a perfect score being 100, all the companies rated fell far short, with most receiving failing grades, the group said.

The good news for users is that 17 of the 22 companies evaluated for the 2018 Index improved scores from last year in at least one area, and many had improvements in multiple areas. Ranking Digital Rights, a nonprofit research center tied to the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, rates the companies on 35 indicators.

“We’ve seen some improvement, but there’s a long way to go,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, director of the Ranking Digital Rights project. “At the same time, some of the improvements we’ve seen have been genuinely meaningful.”

A second piece of good news for users: Some of the companies, particularly the rank-and-file employees, seem to pay attention to their rankings in consumer-focused studies, MacKinnon said during a recent panel discussion. “You benchmark companies, and actually, a lot of them care a lot,” she said.

After Google, the top scores in this year’s rankings were 61 for Microsoft, 59 for Oath, and 55 for Facebook, although the rankings were compiled before a recent series of moves by Facebook to protect user privacy in response to the Cambridge Analytica data leak.

Apple ranked in the middle of the pack for Internet and mobile companies, with a score of 44. The scores for Google and Microsoft both dropped slightly from the 2017 rankings, bucking the general trend of improvement.

Internet companies scored better than telecoms/Internet service providers, with the United Kingdom’s Vodafone scoring a 52 to take the top spot among telecoms. AT&T, from the United States, was second among telecoms with a score of 49.

Companies in Russia, China, and the Middle East scored the lowest. China’s Tencent scored 23, Russia’s scored 21, and China’s Baidu scored 17. On the telecom side, the United Arab Emirates’ Etisalat scored just an 8, and Qatar’s Ooredoo scored a 5.

Google and Apple didn’t response to requests for comment on their scores. Facebook declined to comment on its score, but a representative pointed to a series of blog posts on its new privacy tools.

The Corporate Accountability Index ranks companies on 35 indicators related to privacy and freedom of expression, including how they inform users of data breaches, whether they tell users about government requests for user information or account restrictions, and how they share user information with other organizations.

One of the goals of the index is to help users understand how their privacy and freedom of expression is affected when they use the world’s most popular Internet and telecom companies.

“When power is exercised on us, either by companies directly for their own business reasons, or by governments, or by other third parties that are using or manipulating these platforms, we need to know,” MacKinnon said. “We need to know who can exercise power over our digital lives, under what circumstances.

“We need to be able to understand who is exercising this power if we’re going to hold power accountable,” she added.

While MacKinnon said she was somewhat optimistic about improvements in the rankings, Anil Dash, an entrepreneur and tech ethicist, called for new regulations to protect user privacy and expression.

Most government policy now treats Internet services and social media outlets as a consumer good than can be purchased or declined, but new ways of looking at regulation are needed, he said. While many companies want to improve, there are some “unapologetic bad actors” in the tech industry, he added.

Although many tech companies want to be “seen as doing the right thing,” it’s difficult for users to put other kinds of pressure on them, said Dash, CEO of Frog Creek Software. It’s nearly impossible to boycott many Internet and social media companies because they can still create a profile of you even if you delete your account, he noted.

“There isn’t actually any meaningful way to opt out of Facebook for anybody in basically the developed world right now,” he said.

Promoting strong, technology-neutral data-privacy laws, privacy-by-design principles, and ethical data-collection and handling principles is a key approach to protecting and fostering online privacy. Read the privacy policy brief.

Encryption Human Rights

Encryption Is Key to Safety of Journalists

At a time when we notice increasing and alarming threats to media freedom around the world, World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) is more pertinent today than ever before. We therefore can’t afford to celebrate this important day without both considering the damage done to the free press over the past year and intensifying our efforts to protect journalists and the future of journalism around the world.

To ensure that we can continue to celebrate the media’s vital role in democracies in the future, we must tackle the increasing number of Internet shutdowns around the world and find better ways to secure the safety of journalists.

Let’s start with the latter. The surveillance of journalists, in particular, has profound implications for democratic institutions, including freedom of the press. It threatens journalists’ ability to confidently and confidentially work with sources and to unlock information about controversial issues. It therefore hinders their ability to play their roles as watchdogs in democratic or undemocratic, developed or developing societies alike. But reports indicate that more and more journalists are at risk of facing state or societal surveillance.

Encryption offers a vital and relatively simple defense for such intrusions. Building on last year’s agreement, the 2018 Accra declaration again emphasizes the importance of training journalists in digital safety and security. Organizations like the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation offer security toolkits and guidance on how to encrypt devices and communications. The Internet technical community is also playing an essential role in supporting encryption on the Internet for everyone. But before we can train journalists in securing their work and selves, we have to ensure that the right tools are first in place.

For this reason, it is worrying that there have been more and more incidences of blocking secure and encrypted messaging apps like Telegram and Signal. Governments need to support strong encryption tools, not block them. Not only do network interferences amount to violations of universally protected human rights, but they have also been shown to have costly consequences for countries’ economies. One study indicated that Internet shutdowns in ten African countries cost Sub-Saharan Africa up to USD 237 million between 2015 and 2017, for example.

To prevent such negative consequences in regions that can scarce afford it, we strongly encourage governments to adopt the SecureTheInternet principles and to support strong encryption. This will not only to ensure the safety of journalists, but also the technology that already allows us to do our banking, conduct local and global business, run our power grids, operate communications networks, and therefore bolster our economies worldwide.

While these may seem like difficult tasks, working together will enable us to better tackle these issues in a comprehensive way. This includes not just governments and journalists, but also the readers and users who rely on the news to make informed decisions and to understand their societies, and the Internet companies that provide platforms for publishing news or that give governments the capability of restricting their citizen’s access to information. The Declaration similarly recognizes the importance of a multistakeholder approach to safeguard journalists’ work. Together, we can ensure that next year we can celebrate and not commiserate journalists’ role in our changing societies.

Read the policy brief on Encryption and follow the conversation on Twitter at #WorldPressFreedomDay.

Artificial Intelligence Human Rights Internet Governance

Some Fake News Fighters Embrace AI, Others Seek the Human Touch

Fake news doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, and some entrepreneurs are targeting false news reports with new services designed to alert readers.

Some countries have pushed for new laws to criminalize the creation of fake news – raising questions about government censorship – but these new fake news fighters take a different approach, some using Artificial Intelligence, some using human power, and some using a combination of AI and humans.

Several high-profile fake news fighting services have launched in recent years, some of them driven by the amount of fake news generated during the 2016 U.S. election. These services generally focus on web content appearing to be legitimate news, as an alternative to traditional fact-checking services like Snopes – which takes a broad look at Web-based news and rumors – or PolitiFact – which addresses claims made by politicians and political groups.

The amount of fake news generated during the election campaign was the main reason FightHoax founder Valentinos Tzekas began working on his service two years ago. At the time, Tzekas was a first-year applied informatics student at a Greek university, but he is planning to leave school to work full time on FightHoax.

The 2016 U.S. elections “took the world by storm,” said Tzekas, named to the Internet Society’s 25 under 25 list in 2017. “All of a sudden, rumors and fake news started coming out of nowhere.”

Tzekas saw news reports about a student Macedonia making thousands of dollars each month by writing false news stories. “The worst thing is that people believe anything they read on the Internet,” he said.

FightHoax takes a tech-centric approach to identifying fake news by using Artificial Intelligence, including IBM’s Watson, to rate articles on seven criteria. The algorithms test for the quality and level of the writing, whether the article includes polarized language, and whether the headline is clickbait. The service also checks the political leaning of the publication, among other things.

While thinking about fake news, “one day I thought to myself: ‘Can I make something to analyze news articles and warn readers about anything suspicious, such as the use of propaganda rhetoric?’ Tzekas said. “’Can I make something that will, in a few minutes, do the work of human fact checkers and get a result as to whether a given story is true or a hoax?’”

FightHoax, which claimed an 89 percent accuracy rates in early tests, is planning for an enterprise dashboard version release within 18 months, Tzekas said. He plans to work first with newsrooms and academics, with the enterprise dashboard allowing the service’s API to connect with advertising-serving companies, news distributors, and social networks.

The advantage of an AI-powered approach is a service that can “analyze harmful news content that exists on the Internet, at a scale,” Tzekas said. While a tech-focused approach doesn’t work to analyze all factors involved in fake news, it’s a good fit to identify markers like clickbait headlines, he added.

“Machines cannot fully understand the messy-polymorphic human written language so sometimes you need to think really simple,” he said. “Our number one mission here at FightHoax is to make people think. [We want to] solve disinformation at a scale, with technology that works on a human scale.”

At the opposite end of the technology spectrum from FightHoax is NewsGuard, announced in March. The service, cofounded by journalism veterans Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz, will take a human approach to rooting out fake news, with plans to hire dozens of journalists to review and rate 7,500 news and information websites most accessed and shared in the United States.

The trained journalists will write “nutrition-label” style reviews of the sites and include green, yellow, or red labels. The founders plan to license the service to social media platforms and online search companies, as well as to interested consumers.

In April, NewsGuard launched a fake news hotline for the public to report suspected sites.

If FightHoax embraces technology to fighting fake news, and NewsGuard embraces a human approach, U.K.-based Factmata splits the difference. The service, with several high-profile investors, uses a combination of AI tools and human intervention to target hate speech, propaganda, and spoof news sites.

The combination of AI and human insight promises to be the best way to identify fake news, said Dhruv Ghulati, Factmata’s founder and CEO. “Pure human is too slow and unscalable for the pace of today’s news cycle, and pure AI just will get a lot of things wrong if not carefully supervised and trained,” he said.

Factmata has, in fact, reached out to NewsGuard about a potential partnership, he added. “Their community of journalists we feel can be greatly augmented by our pipelines for assessing content and judging news for its credibility, and our AI to help automatically flag certain types of content,” Ghulati said

The target audience for Factmata’s news platform is journalists and other experts, but the company is also planning a B2B product that provides news quality scores for customers including advertising networks and agencies.

Factmata plans to soft launch its Web-based Briefr news sharing service within weeks, with about 350 journalists and other experts participating, Ghulati said. A full launch is scheduled for June.

Other fake news fighting efforts include Full Fact, a U.K. fact-checking service, the Fake News Challenge, which ran a fake news-fighting competition in 2017.

Read our interview with Wired Editor in Chief Nicholas Thompson on the changing role of media, then explore the 2017 Internet Society Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future and read the recommendations to ensure that humanity remains at the core of tomorrow’s Internet.

Artificial Intelligence Human Rights Internet Governance Shaping the Internet's Future

Future Thinking: Getachew Engida on Digital Divides

Last year, the Internet Society unveiled the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future. The interactive report identifies the drivers affecting tomorrow’s Internet and their impact on Media & Society, Digital Divides, and Personal Rights & Freedoms. In April 2018, we interviewed two stakeholders – Getachew Engida, Deputy Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and Augusto Mathurin, who created Virtuágora, an open source digital participation platform – to hear their different perspectives on the forces shaping the Internet.

Getachew Engida is the Deputy Director-General of UNESCO. He has spent the past twenty years leading and managing international organizations and advancing the cause of poverty eradication, peace-building, and sustainable development. He has worked extensively on rural and agricultural development, water and climate challenges, education, science, technology and innovation, intercultural dialogue and cultural diversity, communication and information with emphasis on freedom of expression, and the free flow information on and offline. (You can read Augusto Mathurin’s interview here).

The Internet Society: You have, in the past, stressed the role that education has played in your own life and can play in others’ lives. Do you see technology helping to promote literacy and education in all regions in the future?

Getachew EngidaEducation unleashes new opportunities and must be available to all. If it were not for educational opportunities, I certainly would not have been where I am today. Though coming from a humble and poor family, I was given the opportunity to go to public primary and secondary schools that also had feeding programs thanks to UN agencies. I benefitted from scholarships to undertake higher education that made a huge difference to my career progression.

Technology, indeed, is a great enabler and allows us to reach the marginalized and those left behind from quality education. But while connectivity is increasing at a rapid pace, educational material lags behind, particularly in mother tongues. Appropriate and relevant, quality education, combined with technology, will be a potent weapon to drastically improve access to education and eliminate illiteracy around the world.

How can we ensure that future generations are taught the right skills to flourish in future workplaces, which will demand a thorough command of digital skills?

No doubt, inclusive knowledge societies and the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development cannot be achieved without an informed population and an information-literate youth. Digital skills constitute a crucial part of quality education and lifelong learning.

UNESCO believes in empowering  women and men, but particularly youth, by focusing specifically on what we call “Media and Information Literacy” (MIL). This includes human rights literacy, digital security skills, and cross-cultural competencies. These skills enable people to critically interpret their complex digital information environments and to constructively access and contribute information about matters like democracy, health, environment, education, and work.

As the media and communications landscape is complex and rapidly changing, we need to constantly update the substance of media and information literacy education to keep pace with technological development. The youth need, for example, to grapple with the attention economy, personal data and privacy, and how these and other developments impact them through algorithms and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Facing increasing concerns about the misuse of information and disinformation (‘fake news’), propaganda, hate speech, and violent extremism, we see an urgent need for a concerted effort from all stakeholders to empower societies with stronger media and information literacy competencies. In this way, the targets of malicious online endeavours will be able to detect, decipher and discredit attempts to manipulate their feelings, networks, and personal identities.

What role does the UN in general and UNESCO more specifically have to play in promoting and protecting human rights online? How does UNESCO navigate tensions between different interpretations of human rights online – e.g., first amendment fundamentalism in the US versus more balanced approaches in Europe?

One of the great achievements of the United Nations is the creation of a comprehensive body of human rights law—a universal and internationally protected code to which all nations can subscribe and all people can aspire. In the digital age, the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council have constantly updated this human rights mandate by issuing a number of resolutions to promote human rights equally online and offline.

UNESCO, in turn, is the UN agency with a mandate to defend freedom of expression, instructed by its constitution to promote “the free flow of ideas by word and image.” UNESCO also recognizes the right to privacy underpins other rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression, association, and belief. We work worldwide to promote freedom of expression and privacy both online and offline.

UNESCO has taken a lead to flag Internet freedom issues at a number of key conferences and events such as the upcoming RightsCon gatherings, the annual WSIS Forum, and the Internet Governance Forum. We also do the same at UNESCO World Press Freedom Day celebrations each year on May 3, and meetings to mark the International Day for Universal Access to Information, on 28 September every year. To provide member states and stakeholders with cutting-edge knowledge and policy advice, UNESCO has commissioned a number of pioneering policy studies, the Internet Freedom series, too. They shed light on issues such as protecting journalism sources in digital age, principles for governing the Internet, and the evolution of multistakeholder participation in Internet governance.

How do you see emerging technologies, such as IoT or AI, impacting sustainable development and the future of our world? As we promote connectivity, do we risk cultural and linguistic diversity?

AI could profoundly shape humanity’s access to information and knowledge, which will make it easier to produce, distribute, find and assess. This could allow humanity to concentrate on creative development rather than more mundane tasks. The implications for open educational resources, cultural diversity, and scientific progress could also be significant. In addition, AI could also provide new opportunities to understand the drivers of intercultural tension and other forms of conflict, providing the capacities to collect, analyze, and interpret vast quantities of data to better understand, and perhaps predict, how and when misunderstandings and conflict may arise. In turn, these can all contribute to democracy, peace and achieving the SDGs.

However, AI and automated processes, which are particularly powerful when fuelled by big data, also raise concerns for human rights, especially where freedom of expression and the right to privacy are concerned. Internet companies have begun to use AI in content moderation and in ranking orders for personalized search results and social media newsfeeds. Without human values and ethics being instilled from the start during the design stage, and without relevant human oversight, judgement, and due process, such practices can have a negative impact on human rights.

AI is already beginning to shape news production and dissemination and shifting the practice and value of journalists and journalism in the digital age. Internet and news media companies, especially whether they intersect, need to consciously reflect on the ambiguities of data mining and targeting, as well as Big Data business models for advertising in the attention economy.

There is therefore a crucial need to explore these issues in depth and to reflect on ways to harness Big Data and AI technologies in order to mitigate disadvantages and advance human rights and democracy, build inclusive knowledge societies, and achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Current societal mechanisms including moral and legal frameworks are not geared to effectively deal with such rapid developments.

What are your hopes for the future of the Internet? What are your fears?

I hope to see a free and open Internet which is accessed and governed by all, leaving no one behind and making the world a better place for future generations. To do this we have to continuously counter emerging divides, such as linguistic capacities of computer recognition of speech which is making great strides in English, for example, but which leaves many other languages on the periphery. We need a proportionate response to the problems on the Internet which does not  damage “the good” in countering “the bad.” We should expand and maintain connectivity as the default setting in the digital age, and do everything possible to avoid the increasing tendencies of complete Internet shutdowns in certain regions or places. We need better respect for personal data and privacy from both corporate and state actors who track our online data. We need strong journalism online to counter disinformation, and we need heightened media and information literacies for everybody.

My fear is that Internet as a double-edge sword: if not properly harnessed, it might end up being used to regress, rather than to advance, those classic values we cherish such as a private life, transparency, and public-interest journalism. Without dialogue amongst all stakeholders, we could see the Internet and related technologies being exploited to pose severe challenges to peace, security, and human rights. Such fears need to be offset by maintaining a sense of proportion whereby the good of the Internet significantly dwarfs the bad, and where we can increasingly utilise existing and emerging digital technologies to achieve the planet’s agreed development goals by 2030.

What do you think the future of the Internet looks like? Explore the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future to see how the Internet might transform our lives across the globe, then choose a path to help shape tomorrow.